Today the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) voted YES to industrial action, (with 99.6% favour of a strike ballot) following hot on the heels of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL). The shrieks of the tabloids that the country will be ‘brought to a standstill’ fills us with a cautious hope that discontent is about to blossom again.
Ostensibly, this is about pension cuts, which translates into being made to work longer hours for less pay. ‘Longer Hours for Less Pay’ is of course the current political drive stamped upon us with the language of necessity, and empty platitudes that we are ‘all in this together’. Whilst it is true that teachers are just a group amongst many being battered by the implementation of austerity capitalism, it is equally true that others are profiting from these measures.
Of more interest than the specific reasons for this teacher’s strike is the impact it could have. The country will not, of course, be brought to a standstill, for, unfortunately, capital is not so fragile it can crumble just like that. However, a teacher’s strike with primary and secondary school closures up and down the country does indeed have an enormous impact on every working parent, and every working parent’s employer. Across the country parents will be taking time off work as the compulsory child minding scheme that is school takes a step back. The ripple on effects reminds us just how very powerful a teacher’s refusal to work can be.
This raises other thoughts about the centrality of compulsory education for everyone from 5 to 16 (increasing to 18 in 2015). While an adult not working may result in financial hardship, a child not attending their designated work area can result in parental imprisonment. Part-time employment, flexitime, even the (partially mythical) choice of what to do as work is denied our children. Meanwhile the police see truancy as such a heinous crime they dedicate special patrols to fighting it. The fiction of compulsory education for children, for 5 days a week, is an immensely
powerful narrative within our society, where the forced child labour of schooling is rewritten as a hard-won right, a liberation. This gift horse is worth looking at in the mouth.
What then, COULD a school struggle look like?
In France, at least 250 schools have been occupied in protest at cuts and closures, mainly by parents. These occupations have gained popular support, even from unlikely sources like TF1. However, as with the occupations of many Universities across the UK late last year, or many of the recent anti-cuts protests, there are issues around struggles merely defending what we have, not creating something new.
In the run-up to the Iraq War, more than 10,000 school pupils attended protests, and were often some of the most militant participants. This was repeated in the anti education cuts protests. This repels the notion that our youth are apathetic, or unconcerned with anything but the immediate. A school pupil/teacher/parent alliance with the forthcoming strike could have a far more interesting and wide reaching effect, than teachers striking alone.
Teachers, parents and school pupils, like university staff and students, all act as workers in the production of docile labour. During a strike, occupation or other forms of resistance, outside of their usual workplaces and roles, opportunities for new relations can be forged. We have no blueprint for this struggle, but, as parents, students, and teachers ourselves, we can imagine something creative and wonderful, potential for student led free schools, and autonomous free space with pupil-led workshops and classes. There is the opportunity not just to protect what little there is, but an opportunity to create the world we want to live in.
As with the University struggles, this is an opportunity to question not just cuts to the sector, but much wider notions of what education is and what education could look like for the under 16’s. As with higher education, and the creative and subversive projects underway to create something new, the same path can be forged for the younger workers engaged in the school system. As we say on the Really Open University website under ‘What is the
The ROU does not want to defend the university – we are not interested in maintaining an institution where our collective capacities are directed towards reproducing an elite or a highly-trained reserve army of labourers. We desire the transformation of the university, the creation of a common institution that works in the interests of all people in common.
Strike – Occupy – Transform